Lauren Bush Lauren: Founder & CEO of FEED

Episode 359

Lauren Bush Lauren knows a thing or two about social entrepreneurism. The Founder & CEO of FEED created an impact-driven brand upon the belief that food is a universal human right. We’ve all seen the incredible FEED bags. Since its inception in 2007, every FEED product sold provides school meals to children through direct donations to on-the-ground partners around the world. Over 126 million school meals! Lauren discusses why social entrepreneurship is the future, obstacles along the way with lessons and how conscious consumerism is alive and well. You don’t want to miss this episode for sure. Now on #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I am so excited to have my next guest here we have Lauren Bush, Lauren, who is the founder and CEO of feed. And if you have not seen feed, maybe I’ll give you a little hint. It’s the feed bags that are just beautiful. That started about 15 years ago, I first saw them and Whole Foods Market as I was stocking shelves at hand or forehand in in the market, I think I saw these bags and purchased a few of them and thought, oh my gosh, and it was probably the first real social entrepreneurism effort that I had seen. And, and definitely very, very cool looking. And they’ve only gotten better over the years. So every feedbag product sold, by the way, provides school meals to children through direct donations to on the ground partners since 2007. Feed has helped provide over 126 million school meals, I mean, amazing something to definitely be so proud of as a as a company and as a social entrepreneur, for sure. It’s so cool. But I can’t wait to hear more about Lauren’s journey in building this incredible company and hear all of her wisdom and lessons. So thank you for coming on, Lauren.

Lauren Bush Lauren 2:06
Thank you for having me. I love your podcast. And this is a treat.

Kara Goldin 2:11
Thank you. Well, very, very fun. And I know you know some of the other entrepreneurs that we’ve had on as well. So I love that there’s like this little network out there of super great entrepreneurs trying to do really good things.

Lauren Bush Lauren 2:25
Thank you. Yeah, I’m honored.

Kara Goldin 2:27
So I’d love to hear your backstory you and I were talking for a minute. So you grew up in in Texas? And did you always think you were going to be an entrepreneur.

Lauren Bush Lauren 2:37
Um, it’s funny, I didn’t sort of set out to be an entrepreneur. In some ways I was an accidental one. But if I do think back to like childhood memories and things I would do sort of in my spare time, it was the lemonade stands, creating jewelry and selling it at craft fairs. Like I was always sort of making things and trying to sell sell them to people, flowers stands, organizing neighborhood kids to you know, do this, that and the other. So it is something that comes naturally and something I always enjoyed. Again, when I was little when it was in a mandated activity, it was just sort of free time to play and explore. So it’s it makes sense. Now,

Kara Goldin 3:18
where did this, this idea for social entrepreneurism come about for you.

Lauren Bush Lauren 3:24
So basically, I had the, you know, eye opening, life changing opportunity to start traveling with the UN World Food Programme, gosh, almost 18 years ago, when I was a student in college, and at the time, they were looking to get more students active and aware about the fight to end world hunger and, you know, globally, over 800 million people are hungry, that means they wake up and don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from, and all these daunting statistics about hunger, and, you know, I would say sort of jarring images that you see on the news became very real for me and being able to travel to a lot of these, you know, regions around the world in countries where poverty and hunger persist, and and seeing kids specifically born into this, you know, life of hunger and poverty. I really, obviously, as any human, I think would be felt very motivated and inspired to want to do something and to give back and candidly, for years felt this frustration and sort of disconnect of like, how do I how do I make this overwhelming a massive issue of world hunger, more tangible for my peers, other young people who want to give back and do good for the world, but don’t necessarily know how to don’t have a big bank account yet in our, you know, making donations to big UN organizations. How could I be that bridge given what I’d seen on my travels, and the program that I did see around the world, really making an amazing difference is school feeding which is something we’re lucky in the US that the government stapled to help, you know, find free and reduced price lunch meals for kids. And we feed also supports giving school breakfast meals as well as summer meals. But essentially, that’s like an amazing safety net for kids to not only get that lunch meal a day, that one nutritious meal, maybe two meals, but it’s really incentivizing them to go to school stay in school longer. And in essence with that meal, and with that education, they have a much better chance of breaking out of the poverty cycle they’re born into. So upon traveling upon seeing school, school meals, you know, done in every which way in urban settings and rural, you know, literally PTA style moms from the community come together and mix a big vat of this, like, you know, nutrient and rich porridge at the very basic or form tortillas out of it. Just amazing to see the many ways that happens around the globe, but it’s how transformative it is and how you know, truly it is the reason many kids are going to school, unable to stay in school. So I knew I wanted to do something specifically to support the school feeding program, and really create a way for others to engage and give back as well. And I again, loved the other side of my life was going to school, of course, but also I would do design classes and fashion internships in New York City. And I really loved the fashion industry, I’d done a little modeling, in high school and a little in college and thought, Gosh, I really am interested in in design and in the fashion world. So the AHA feed came from kind of combining both of these experiences, and I guess personal desires, one of which was to give back to the World Food Program, who was organization I had traveled with, to help them you know, raise money and awareness, specifically to fund school feeding programs. And then on the fashion front to Yeah, be engaged in something creative and entrepreneurial and an interesting and then Wallah, the feedback, the idea for the feedback was born out of those two, two desires.

Kara Goldin 7:18
So you were still in college when you developed the bag? Or were you still kind of incubating the idea while you were in college.

Lauren Bush Lauren 7:27
I was Yeah, I had the idea. I had this sort of aha moment. I think my junior year of college, and I was yeah, a year and a half from graduating and having that existential like, Oh, God, what’s next? I had yeah, like I said, so many interests and was either going to be a humanitarian aid worker and, you know, move to Burma and help deliver food. However I could, or I was going to move to New York City and design, you know, join a fashion house and learn, learn the trade. And I, at the time had this idea, again, for the World Food Program, really, actually initially, I was kind of conceptualizing it more for them to kind of own and run and use as a vehicle to raise funds and awareness. And at some point after I can get into that, but I figured out in the meantime, how to sample the bag, you know, I did all the back end, in essence, and got our first purchase order actually from You know, right after I graduated from college, and at that point, the UN rightly said, you know, gosh, Lauren, we know you’ve been working on this project. But we’re a UN agency legally, we can’t be the seller of a product. And I was like, wait, we wait, I’ve been working on this. You know, for a year and a half 500 Kids will be fed with this one purchase order for a year in school. Can’t we just like we literally needed a company name or an organization’s name to write on the purchase order to fulfill it. And at that point, I said, Okay, I’m starting my own company, I will literally just, if anything, just to fulfill this first order, God willing, it will become more and feed more kids. So it really started out of necessity in a way to fulfill that first, first purchase order because the World Food Program is still sort of an amazing giving partner today said no, we can’t be the entity that sells sells the bag ourselves.

Kara Goldin 9:26
That is so wild. So you really didn’t think of launching this as your company you really wanted to create an idea that somebody else kind of took over but yeah, wow, I didn’t know that part. I know

Lauren Bush Lauren 9:39
I don’t tell that side of the story often, but it’s the truth. Like it’s it. I had, you know, hopes and dreams beyond it, but I certainly didn’t start the way many I know founders and companies do with a, you know, five year plan and this that and the other one, you know, it was truly out of a desire to feed these first 500 kids that You know, the proceeds from that first purchase order would would help feed.

Kara Goldin 10:05
Were there any other social initiatives out there that you sort of looked at for guidance on how to actually do this? I mean, what was your I feel like you probably took little pieces from a lot of different companies. But I’d love to hear your story.

Lauren Bush Lauren 10:24
Totally, I think it was a really interesting time feed certainly was more of an anomaly in the sense that, yeah, we were a for profit company, founded very much to give back and do good for the world. And now, it’s amazing, there’s a big, you know, we are a B Corp, but there’s a whole B Corp status that companies seek and so many companies, I mean, most companies have to have that deeper, deeper social purpose and mission, which is awesome. So it’s been so cool, over the last 15 years to sort of have a front row seat to how that evolution has happened. In terms of like, pure companies, I look to Toms Shoes, the founder, Blake and I became great buddies kind of early on, he started his company, I think, you know, six months, maybe before feed, so we’d always pal around and sort of compare notes. The Red campaign different but was starting as well as sort of a brand, again, to get back to health, HIV and AIDS, obviously founded by Bondo and team. So those were kind of peers at the time that were starting. And but I would say, Yeah, I mean, as I do today, like I look for inspiration all over the place, and learnings and I’m constantly, constantly learning, which is what makes life fun. And being a leader, a business leader fun. And, yeah, whether it be other just pure bag brands, or companies or whether it’s, you know, other organizations that are giving back. So I yeah, I feel like there’s a lot to take from, from other. I don’t even I don’t even think of them as competitors, but just like, like companies? Yeah.

Kara Goldin 12:09
Did you? Did you work with any of them to sort of partner early on to kind of get the word out? Or how did you get the word out about feed?

Lauren Bush Lauren 12:18
Ooh, I mean, God, this really dates me, this was like, you know, Facebook was like, just getting started. Instagram wasn’t around, you know. So it really, you know, my strategy, I would say, for the first seven, eight years feed really, we we built beat on the back of big partnerships, and big, you know, with retailers with brands that had just a bigger reach, more marketing dollars, all the stuff than we had. I set my sights early on on whole foods market. For example, I’m a Texas girl, they’re a Texas company. And I felt what it what an appropriate moment for you to be grocery shopping, you know, for yourself to feed yourself, feed your family, and then be mindful and giving back to help feed kids in need. So that was an early one that we went after. But really the first again, decade of feed, we partnered with everyone from the gap to West Elm, William Sonoma, Disney. Oh my god, I’m in and forget so many. Target clarens I mean, these, you know, much bigger brands, much bigger retailers who were looking at the time, and still to this day for companies like ours that have not only you know, the give back element in this tangible way. So every product we make and sell, there’s a number attached to it, that signifies the amount of school meals we’re able to give through the purchase of that product. And at the same time, we’re a product to so we’re also we are kind of a ready made way for consumers to engage with the cars. So it’s been really fun. You know, one of the great joys of my job has been kind of meeting those partners figuring out the mash up between what’s you know, brand right for us what, what works for them, and then obviously feed being amplified our mission, our business, our products, through that, that partnership.

Kara Goldin 14:16
So one of the stories that you shared with me was actually getting into Whole Foods and I’d love to, for you to share that story just around. You were in college and you got over your fear of going and, and tapping somebody on the shoulder who was speaking but I’d love to. I’d love to hear the story of how it actually can be

Lauren Bush Lauren 14:43
sure I yeah, like I said, when I was sort of concepting the idea of the feedbag had always thought Whole Foods would be a wonderful partner for us. At the time. I you know, obviously was a college student didn’t know how to get that Done. And actually, before I even had a bag, prototype or sample, I was home in Texas for a school break. And my dad was heading to Austin for work. And I convinced him to let me tag along. And I went to Austin kind of cold called, knocked on the door of the headquarters, I was able to get a meeting with a very kind woman from that whole foods from the Austin sort of Texas region, who informed me essentially that at the time, the whole foods Planet Foundation was, you know, focused on issues of obesity and nutrition, not so much on hunger. So it wasn’t right. And I was like, no, no, no, I think I, you know, please don’t change your philanthropic strategy, I’m asking you to consider purchasing a bag that would essentially help feed kids in school around the globe. So I would love to talk to your, your merchants, your buyers, whoever’s, you know, in charge of your reasonable back program. So I kind of left the meeting feeling defeated, but still feeling like Whole Foods was that amazing partner for feed. I took the time then to figure out you know, often I do think people need to see it to believe it. So took the time to figure out the development the back in, you know how to turn a my idea into a spec in the spec into an actual sample. In with that actual sample, once I had that about, I don’t know, six to nine months later, as luck would have it. John Mackey was coming to Princeton, where I went to college, and he was a speaker. And at the time, the professor who had invited him to be in conversation with him at this talk, was an ethics Professor Peter Singer, who I’d taken his class and was friendly with. So I was able to kind of weasel my way into the smaller students dinner he did after his talk. And I sat right next to him and brought my bag sample and sort of worked up the courage after dinner, he was like getting up to leave to say, Hey, I tapped him on the shoulder and, you know, gave him the whole spiel about a half, you know, I’m Lauren, I’ve traveled with the World Food Program, I you know, school feeding. And here, look, I’ve designed this reasonable bag made of you know, natural materials, each bag, can you believe it will help feed a child in school for a year. You know, I think Whole Foods would be the best partner. He very kindly I think had you know, been fielding lots of students ideas all day, was very kind and connected me to a deputy who to connect me to someone else, and it just kind of faded out. Fast forward a year. By that point, I a year and a half. Even I’d graduated. Still, with my bag prototype, still determined to get it out in the world. At that time, we’d already started selling online on Amazon and getting a lot of traction that way. And as luck would have it, a friend of a friend was the gourmet food buyer in the Northeast region of Whole Foods. And that gourmet food buyer connected me to, you know, the original lead of a lead marketer, who really saw the vision for the feedbag and saw the synergy that I did, and not only convinced that northeast region to buy the bag, but then convinced you essentially took me on a bit of a road show to all 12 regions of Whole Foods and eventually got signed on sign in to do yet a nationwide distribution, a multi year partnership, and with which, we were able to fund all the school meals for Rwanda for a year, which just showed, you know, many things, but it proves that, you know, you can have this massive impact with the right partner with the right product. You know, having that synergy and alignment, you can really, again, have have such a big impact and feed all this culture and it was really cool. A lot of the Yeah, that lead marketer who I spoke about, but also one of you know, John Mackey’s right hands, who has worked with him from the beginning, came with me to Rwanda. And we actually went and visited schools and, you know, we’re able to, you know, see firsthand that program in action. And yeah, it was extremely, extremely gratifying.

Kara Goldin 19:23
It’s such an interesting story, because it’s never a straight road, right for entrepreneurship, whether it’s social entrepreneurship or regular entrepreneurship, it’s, it’s, you know, finding your champion. That person is not necessarily the person that seems the most obvious to you. But it’s exactly you know, being at the right place, right time. All of those pieces of this so I love, love that story. So when you think about your business, you’ve been in business for 15 years. And how is your business changed in the past couple of years? Since the pandemic? And I guess through the pandemic as well?

Lauren Bush Lauren 20:09
Yeah, great question. And I would say it’s a constant evolution, as we all know, the retail landscape has changed dramatically, as has, has has our world. Since 2020. We were already, I would say, you know, gosh, three years prior to COVID, kind of pivoting more to being a direct to consumer business, primarily. So in obviously, with COVID, that that helped solidify that strategy. And that pivot. I’d say now, we’re kind of moving back now that the world is opened up again, and, you know, to being a bit more omni channel, again, which I think is really important right now for for businesses and consumer brands like ours. But it really was. Yeah, having that direct relationship to consumers in 2020, I think is we’re all you know, those of us who could sitting at home, obviously, worried about the state of the world and concern for people who are really suffering, and wanting to do more, you know, as if people were really looking to shop more consciously. So I would say 2020 was a, really a banner year for feed. Because, again, people were at home being more thoughtful, I think about, yeah, how to give and where to give. And really the cause of hunger. So the reason why feed exists prior to COVID. So prior to 2020, was one of those things that year over year was getting a little better, actually, more people were getting access to food, there were less, you know, famines and extreme situations. And because of COVID, that because of also, you know, the war and the Ukraine and climate change, and many other reasons, hunger is just exponentially more in the last three years. So if anything, you know, I feel more more motivated, and when we need to do more and more quickly, even to help those in need the last three years.

Kara Goldin 22:15
So conscious consumerism, you sort of touched on this. I mean, it’s definitely a big deal. And I think it’s as consumers, I have four kids, I have three Gen Z years who are, you know, they care a lot about supporting brands that they feel like they’re helping, in some way. Talk to me a little bit about what you see, as well. And as this consumer, I mean, you’ve been a brand for the last 15 years. But do you think it’s even more and more important?

Lauren Bush Lauren 22:47
I do I do. And that’s cool to hear about your kids. I think that is, you know, what younger consumers not just want from their the brands they support, but sort of demand and there is this, you know, I think what was kind of conscious consumerism is even more, more direct, and people buy or buy caught boycott from brands and companies whose values don’t align with theirs. And, you know, leaders of companies and brands themselves are being held to that higher standard, I think there was an Edelman survey that basically said and showed, you know, as, as people have lost faith, let’s say an institution, so in government, and even maybe nonprofits, they’re putting more weight into businesses to actually step up and do good for the world and take stands on social issues, and be a player in these dialogues that I do think even, you know, a decade, two decades ago, businesses were sort of over here, not expect, you know, doing business as usual. And it was really up to nonprofits and the government to do good for the world. And now, you know, those lines have certainly been blurred, and more and more people really do look to businesses and hold them accountable for not only delivering value to shareholders, but just to have having that greater mission and bigger, bigger, better vision for the world on top of that, which is cool.

Kara Goldin 24:19
Yeah, definitely. So how do you measure success? For feed? I’m so curious, like, you know, we all have hard days in entrepreneurship. And there’s you touched on this earlier, but there’s more often more noes in in the journey than there are yeses. That yeses, we have to sort of hold on to those and embrace them and remember them but how do you measure success when you think about what fede has done, I mean, like, what what do you what do you smile about what makes you feel really proud

Lauren Bush Lauren 24:59
of That’s nice. I mean, first and foremost, it’s our meal count. So you can find that on our website. So the overall tally of the amount of meals we’ve been able to give, you know, through bag sales through partnerships, through feed steppers, we’ve raised, you know, community activations, and little mini fundraisers we’ve had. So first and foremost, it’s our impact. And then secondly, I think any, you know, as you probably know, when you are a founder, and you have a vision, and you create something, you put something in the world, nothing makes me smile, more than seeing a random stranger walking down the street or in the subway in New York City, carrying my bag, like it’s still to this day, I get such a high on seeing that in the wild and knowing that something I created. Yeah, someone’s getting use out of, and hopefully it’s helping them on their day, and they’re feeling good about the purchase they made and the good they’ve done through it. So that’s still, again, something I get a lot of joy from.

Kara Goldin 26:01
Well, what I love about your brand, too, is there’s probably many people who are on the subway that just liked the back. Right? They may not know the staff. Yeah, and what they’re doing right or, yeah, you know, like, how much is actually going towards, towards this or towards this initiative, all of these things yet? It is right. And and I think that that’s a really powerful thing. I mean, we’ve had that with him to where I get the smiles to people will see that I have a sweatshirt on that says hint, and they’re like, Oh, do you work for that company? You know, I hear their stories, they’re just excited to be drinking it, but they don’t really know that it doesn’t have any sweeteners in it. They don’t know that, you know, the brand is getting people healthier, and getting people off of things that they shouldn’t be drinking. And and I think that your what you guys have started is not only helping so many people, but also providing them with a great product, that that is spreading the word. So I think it’s a amazing idea.

Lauren Bush Lauren 27:16
Yeah, first and foremost, the product has to be great. The price has to be right. You have to Yeah, meet consumers where they are. And the icing on the cake for us is the give back and the ability to help fund school meals through the purchases. But 100% of the product isn’t spot on and what people are looking for, you know, you’re not, you’re not going to win. And it is so fun to understand. Yeah, what makes people tick for us? It’s, you know, in the bag business, what are the needs? What are what is a busy, you know, woman a mom need to get around for her day? And what are those? What’s that offering we can build out for her. It’s really fun to get to know to know your consumer and kind of understand what makes them tick and what they what they need.

Kara Goldin 28:06
I love it. I’m so curious to I mean, you’ve you and I were chatting about I’ve definitely been in some circles with you and you’ve been you’ve been speaking about your product, you know, over the last 15 years. Being an entrepreneur, do you think that that’s part of the journey? I mean, you really need to be able to get out there and and I think so many people picked up on the bag, maybe they saw it at Whole Foods, or Amazon or some of these, or on the subway, but then they also heard you speaking about it. I’m so curious. What part of that you think is important for an entrepreneur? Because I think often people don’t realize this when they have an idea that they actually have to, or they should be out speaking about it. It’s just, it’s a way to get people

Lauren Bush Lauren 29:04
to understand. Yeah, it’s such a great question. And yeah, as someone who I don’t personally, I I’m not an extrovert in that way, like I don’t love public speaking necessarily something I’ve practiced and I feel like I’ve gotten better at which is a fun challenge always. But 100% Like if this is something you founded, you want to make work. Yeah, you need to put your whole whole self into it has been my experience, which means being a spokesperson for and I mean, so many people want to connect with the human behind the brand. So being available to be that human I think is important. And at the same time I do think it’s a balance. I don’t want it to be the Lauren show. Like I want people and I don’t think that’s ultimately what makes people purchase a bag. It may be the reason they learn about it for the first time maybe and if that is great like all Ultimately, though, what’s going to make them then convert into be a customer? Is they need to Yeah. Love the product. Again, the price has to be right. Oh, and isn’t it nice? It’s, you know, feeding 10 kids in school. And if certainly if I can be the vehicle for that initial awareness, wonderful, but I, I never want to trump the brand in that way, like I want it feed to, to be able to speak for itself as well.

Kara Goldin 30:28
Well, and I don’t think you do at all. But I do think it’s an important piece. And I think that you’ve helped spread, really the mission and the purpose behind such a great initiative. So Well, thank you so much for coming on. And really appreciate learning a lot more and all about your journey. So best of luck moving forward.

Lauren Bush Lauren 30:50
Thank you so much. This was so fun. I really appreciate it.

Kara Goldin 30:53
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen. Or pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and good bye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening